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Attacker opens fire at Conn. school where mother worked; 26 killed, including 20 children

Published: Friday, Dec. 14 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Cat McDonald, left, of the Long Island borough of New York, holds a candle as she and Emily Prout of Washington, sit by the White House fence mourning the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., in Washington, on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.  Cat McDonald, left, of the Long Island borough of New York, holds a candle as she and Emily Prout of Washington, sit by the White House fence mourning the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., in Washington, on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. "We're here for the families," says McDonald, "to reflect on the tragedy that's happened." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

NEWTOWN, Conn. — A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday inside an elementary school, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom.

The 20-year-old killer, carrying at least two handguns, committed suicide at the school, bringing the death toll to 28, authorities said.

The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre that claimed 33 lives in 2007.

"Our hearts are broken today," a tearful President Barack Obama, struggling to maintain his composure, said at the White House. He called for "meaningful action" to prevent such shootings, saying, "As a country, we have been through this too many times."

Lindsay Merikas, 26, of Alexandria, Va., wears a button saying Lindsay Merikas, 26, of Alexandria, Va., wears a button saying "Stop Gun Violence" as she gathered with other supporters of gun control on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, during a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., and to call on President Obama to pass strong gun control laws. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Police shed no light on the motive for the attack. The gunman, Adam Lanza, was believed to suffer from a personality disorder and lived with his mother, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to discuss it.

Panicked parents looking for their children raced to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, a prosperous New England community of about 27,000 people 60 miles northeast of New York City. Police told youngsters at the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade school to close their eyes as they were led from the building so that they wouldn't see the blood and broken glass.

Schoolchildren — some crying, others looking frightened — were escorted through a parking lot in a line, hands on each other's shoulders.

Law enforcement officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, then drove to the school in her car with at least three guns, including a high-powered rifle that he apparently left in the back of the vehicle, and shot up two classrooms around 9:30 a.m.

Next to his wife wife Fabiola Cordova, left, Chris Homan of Bethesda, Md., holds his son Leo, 2, on his shoulders while attending a candlelight vigil in front of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, after a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Next to his wife wife Fabiola Cordova, left, Chris Homan of Bethesda, Md., holds his son Leo, 2, on his shoulders while attending a candlelight vigil in front of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, after a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A custodian ran through the halls, warning of a gunman on the loose, and someone switched on the intercom, alerting people in the building to the attack — and perhaps saving many lives — by letting them hear the hysteria going on in the school office, a teacher said. Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner or hide in closets as shots echoed through the building.

Authorities gave no details on exactly how the attack unfolded, but police radio traffic indicated the shooting lasted only a few minutes. State police Lt. Paul Vance said officers arrived instantaneously, immediately entered the school, searched it completely and found Lanza dead.

In addition to the 20 children, six adults were killed at the school; the principal was believed to be among the dead. A woman who worked at Sandy Hook Elementary was wounded.

Alissa Manzoeillo of Washington, lights a candle for Alice Chen of Washington, as they hold signs against gun violence at a vigil by the White House after a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Alissa Manzoeillo of Washington, lights a candle for Alice Chen of Washington, as they hold signs against gun violence at a vigil by the White House after a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said investigators believe Lanza attended the school several years ago but appeared to have no recent connection to the place.

At least one parent said Lanza's mother was a substitute teacher there. But her name did not appear on a staff list. And the law enforcement official said investigators were unable to establish any connection so far between her and the school.

Lanza's older brother, 24-year-old Ryan, of Hoboken, N.J., was being questioned, but a law enforcement official said he was not believed to have had a role in the rampage. Investigators were searching his computers and phone records, but he told law enforcement he had not been in touch with his brother since about 2010.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the unfolding investigation.

Police and officials gather at a residence at the intersection of 13th and Grand streets in Hoboken, N.J. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. Local police and the FBI converged on the residence this afternoon after a connection was reported with the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.  (Mel Evans, AP) Police and officials gather at a residence at the intersection of 13th and Grand streets in Hoboken, N.J. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. Local police and the FBI converged on the residence this afternoon after a connection was reported with the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (Mel Evans, AP)

At one point, a law enforcement official mistakenly identified the gunman as Ryan Lanza. Brett Wilshe, a friend of Ryan Lanza's, said Lanza told him the gunman may have had his identification. Ryan Lanza apparently posted Facebook page updates Friday afternoon that read, "It wasn't me" and "I was at work."

Robert Licata said his 6-year-old son was in class when the gunman burst in and shot the teacher. "That's when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door," he said. "He was very brave. He waited for his friends."

He said the shooter didn't utter a word.

Stephen Delgiadice said his 8-year-old daughter heard two big bangs. Teachers told her to get in a corner, he said. "It's alarming, especially in Newtown, Connecticut, which we always thought was the safest place in America," he said. His daughter was uninjured.

In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead a line of children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 after a shooting at the school.  (Shannon Hicks, ASSOCIATED PRESS) In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead a line of children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 after a shooting at the school. (Shannon Hicks, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Theodore Varga was in a meeting with other fourth-grade teachers when he heard the gunfire. He said someone had turned on the intercom so that "you could hear people in the office. You could hear the hysteria that was going on. I think whoever did that saved a lot of people. Everyone in the school was listening to the terror that was transpiring."

Also, a custodian ran around, warning people there was someone with a gun, Varga said.

"He said, 'Guys! Get down! Hide!'" Varga said. "So he was actually a hero." The teacher said he did not know if the custodian survived.

Mergim Bajraliu, 17, said he heard the gunshots echo from his home and ran to check on his 9-year-old sister at the school. He said his sister, who was uninjured, heard a scream come over the intercom. He said teachers were shaking and crying as they came out of the building.

People embrace at a firehouse staging area for family around near the scene of a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. where authorities say a gunman opened fire, leaving 26 people dead, including 20 children, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.  (Jessica Hill, ASSOCIATED PRESS) People embrace at a firehouse staging area for family around near the scene of a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. where authorities say a gunman opened fire, leaving 26 people dead, including 20 children, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (Jessica Hill, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"Everyone was just traumatized," he said.

On Friday night, hundreds of people packed a Newtown church and stood outside in a vigil for the victims. People held hands, lit candles and sang "Silent Night" at St. Rose of Lima church. Anthony Bloss, whose three daughters survived the shootings, said they are doing better than he is. "I'm numb. I'm completely numb," he said at the vigil.

Mary Pendergast said her 9-year-old nephew was in the school at the time of the shooting but wasn't hurt after his music teacher helped him take cover in a closet.

Richard Wilford's 7-year-old son, Richie, told him that he heard a noise that sounded like "cans falling." The boy said a teacher went out to check on the noise, came back in, locked the door and had the children huddle in the corner until police arrived.

"There's no words," Wilford said. "It's sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him."

Emergency vehicles line the road at a firehouse staging area for family at the entrance to Sandy Hook School, the site of a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. A man opened fire Friday inside two classrooms at the school where his mother worked as a teacher, killing 26 people, including 20 children.  The killer, armed with two handguns, committed suicide at the school and another person was found dead at a second scene, bringing the toll to 28, authorities said. A law enforcement official identified the gunman as 20-year-old Adam Lanza.   (Jessica Hill, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Emergency vehicles line the road at a firehouse staging area for family at the entrance to Sandy Hook School, the site of a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. A man opened fire Friday inside two classrooms at the school where his mother worked as a teacher, killing 26 people, including 20 children. The killer, armed with two handguns, committed suicide at the school and another person was found dead at a second scene, bringing the toll to 28, authorities said. A law enforcement official identified the gunman as 20-year-old Adam Lanza. (Jessica Hill, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

On Friday afternoon, family members were led away from a firehouse that was being used as a staging area, some of them weeping. One man, wearing a T-shirt without a jacket, put his arms around a woman as they walked down the middle of the street, oblivious to everything around them. Another woman with tears rolling down her face walked by, carrying a car seat with a baby inside.

"Evil visited this community today and it's too early to speak of recovery, but each parent, each sibling, each member of the family has to understand that Connecticut — we're all in this together. We'll do whatever we can to overcome this event," Gov. Dannel Malloy said.

Adam Lanza and his mother lived in a well-to-do part of Newtown where neighbors are doctors or hold white-collar positions at companies such as General Electric, Pepsi and IBM.

At least three guns were found — a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, inside the school, and a .223-caliber rifle in the back of a car, authorities said. A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said some of the guns used in the attack may have belonged to Lanza's mother, who had legally bought five weapons.

A woman waits to hear about her sister, a teacher, following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., about 60 miles northeast of New York City, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. An official with knowledge of Friday's shooting said 26 people were dead, including 20 children. It was the worst school shooting in the country's history. (Associated Press) A woman waits to hear about her sister, a teacher, following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., about 60 miles northeast of New York City, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. An official with knowledge of Friday's shooting said 26 people were dead, including 20 children. It was the worst school shooting in the country's history. (Associated Press)

Authorities also recovered three other guns — a Henry repeating rifle, an Enfield rifle and a shotgun. It was not clear exactly where those weapons were found.

The shootings instantly brought to mind such tragedies as the Columbine High School massacre that killed 15 in 1999 and the July shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., that left 12 dead.

"You go to a movie theater in Aurora and all of a sudden your life is taken," Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis said. "You're at a shopping mall in Portland, Ore., and your life is taken. This morning, when parents kissed their kids goodbye knowing that they are going to be home to celebrate the holiday season coming up, you don't expect this to happen."

He added: "It has to stop, these senseless deaths."

Obama's comments on the tragedy amounted to one of the most outwardly emotional moments of his presidency.

Parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., about 60 miles northeast of New York City, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (Associated Press) Parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., about 60 miles northeast of New York City, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (Associated Press)

"The majority of those who died were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," Obama said.

He paused for several seconds to keep his composure as he teared up and wiped an eye. Nearby, two aides cried and held hands as they listened to Obama.

"They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, wedding, kids of their own," Obama continued about the victims. "Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children."

Associated Press writers Jim Fitzgerald and Pat Eaton-Robb in Newtown, Bridget Murphy in Boston, Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J., Pete Yost in Washington and Michael Melia in Hartford contributed to this report, as did the AP News Research Center.

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